A Visit to the Enchanted Valley through the Palette of Steve McKenzie

Today I have a special treat for you. One of our guest instructors and one of my dear friends, Steve McKenzie, is sharing a bit about his experience in May at La Fortezza. Steve is a brilliant interior designer, artist, and textile designer in Atlanta. His workshop here in Italy with us is in September, and I cannot wait to welcome him and his students. Enjoy today’s post from Steve, and be sure to sign-up for one of the very few remaining spots for his workshop. Take it away Steve:

My wife, Jill, and I recently had the chance to visit Annette at her magical Fortress in a verdant valley in Northern Tuscany. I wanted to see everything as I prepare for the abstract painting class I will be leading there in September. Inspiration is everywhere, and I cannot wait to return.

The magic begins as you approach her home, and up on the mountain sits her Fortress. They have created beautifully appointed living and working spaces as well as incredibly comfortable guest quarters for the students that are unparalleled. It feels a little like a visit to a monastery where the furnishings and the views take you to a place of contemplation and inspiration.

These cozy places, coupled with a superb cocktail, encourage congregation and conversation.

We were greeted in typical Annette fashion with a delicious, as well as beautiful, Aperitivo of Negroni and nibbles, taken straight out of her new book, Cocktail Italiano. A delicious dinner of pasta and salad followed, reminding me of what a talented cook Annette is.  I am excited that a cooking lesson in the commercial kitchen will be part of our fall workshop.

Day two we had a chance to visit the charming local village, Fivizzano, on market day. It is charming and again, inspiration is around every corner. Following our visit to the market, we visited some of Annette’s favorite vintage and antique dealers. These are a must during the workshop on our free day.

I also strolled over to the La Fortezza vineyards with Annette and Jill. The beauty of this location really spoke to me and inspired me to paint en plein air.  During the workshop, we will take a picnic lunch out here and paint, eat and drink. The colors and vistas are one of the most inspirational places I have visited.

On the journey back to the house, I filled a market basket with wild flowers from the property as well as colorful roses from her rose garden. The most beautiful arrangement quickly came together in a beautiful pitcher from Annette’s copper collection. We will incorporate a quick floral arranging lesson during my workshop as well.

I can’t wait to return and share all the fabulous experiences with my students during the workshop September 19-24, 2018.

There are only a few spaces left, so register now

Thank you for guest posting today, Steve! As always, if you have questions about our workshop, feel free to send me an email or leave a comment below.

xx Annette

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Strictly Styling Workshop June 2018 a recap

As many of you already know, we have been working like crazy to get the Fortress ready for upcoming workshops. Our maiden run was last week for our strictly styling workshop. Needless to say, I was a little anxious to see how our new guest quarters stacked up. I painlessly attended to every detail. Sticking to the idea that less is more and that the ancient walls would speak for themselves. Making sure the beds were comfortable, and the sheets were soft and inviting. Crossing fingers that our bathrooms – which are wet rooms – worked the way we wanted them to. They did.

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Our attendees were a super talented group that consisted of a florist, bloggers and foodstylists, and the stylish owner of a PR firm. This group instantly bonded, and the bond grew tighter as I watched them help and advise each other throughout the their days together. Our team building event of hiking into a waterfall was such fun, and it really showed off the natural beauty around us. We had a picnic, and we chatted and shared our goals and desires throughout the week. All the our days were filled with endless possibilities and inspiration.

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This time I tried something a little different and incorporated a textile painting workshop into the mix. We traveled to Florence for the day to meet Margherita Pandolfini at the studio she shares with partner Karl Jorns.

We had an amazing visit, painted textiles and then headed for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in Florence. La Menagere.

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After an absolutely stellar, lunch we met up with our tour guide and walked all over Florence with our group ending up at the David. I had not seen the David in so many years; it was fun to see him again.

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We grabbed an aperitivo, and then ended our visit to Florence attending a Sunday Supper’s Sobremesa is a global dinner.

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We ate in what was a former glove factory, with a gathering of creatives from all over the world. The lovely Gaia Cozzi and her adorable father prepared everything and were the perfect hosts. We had a great time with everyone and ended the evening with lots of stories to tell and a fun ride back to the Lunigiana recapping our day.

The workshop was a huge success making it hard to part ways. My hope is all of our workshops will be like this one, and the creative juices will keep flowing.

If you would like to join us in the fall we have a couple of places left in our workshops. They are closing end of July so think fast and join us in September and October. Sign-up here.

xx Annette

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Greetings from Italy!

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Ciao everybody! Greetings from Italy! If you follow me on my instagram feeds, you know that I have been BUSY!!! Honestly, that’s an understatement. Busy getting everything in ship shape for our upcoming workshops and photoshoots.

It feels like I have been here for 3 months, but it’s only been 2 weeks with all that we have accomplished on getting everything from the new renovation ready for guests and attendees.

The guest quarters are ready to house everyone all comfy and cozy. It’s been a lot of fun pulling all the decor together with a little (a lot) of help from our friends. Steve and Jill McKenzie helped with styling touches and great advice. Look for their guest post coming up soon! Let’s just say we are excited to welcome them back in September for Steve’s abstract painting workshop in the Italian countryside. We had some great brainstorming sessions as we were busy fixing up the guest quarters.

The commercial kitchen is ready for some cooking action. Here’s where we will cook, offer cooking lessons to workshop attendees and of course have breakfast every morning.

Teri Mammini, our private chef, and I worked our tushes off to make sure the kitchen is perfection. We are really going to enjoy working in this beautiful place all season.

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To say that putting all of this together was daunting is an understatement, but it has been worth every bit of sweat every step along the way.

Our Strictly Styling Workshop is underway. Head to my instagram account to check out all the best bits. I will be back with a recap of every adventure and workshop experience soon on the blog.

xx Annette

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Renovation at the Fortress :: Where are we now?

Commercial kitchen view from the dining room, you can see the configuration and where the student lounge is located on the left

Commercial kitchen view from the dining room, you can see the configuration and where the student lounge is located on the left

Hi Guys, time for another update about our renovation in Italy before I head over in mid May. Here’s where we left off in case you need to catch up.

We had specific areas of the fortress we wanted to focus on this winter.

  • the fortress guest quarters
  • the commercial kitchen
  • the student lounge which also serves as an extra bedroom that sleeps 3 people
  • outdoor oven, the forno
  • kitchen garden patio under the pergola

The guest quarters are almost finished. We will have 3 bedrooms and one with a fireplace. All of the bedrooms will have bathrooms with soft comfy towels and a custom natural soap collection. Our beds will be very comfortable with 100% cotton sheets bedding from Merci in Paris. We will make sure everyone has a stellar experience during our workshops; luxurious monastic rooms are our credo. I had so much great feedback from our attendees last year about their expectations and desires as far as housing goes. We listened, and we hope that our guest rooms will meet your expectations. Our goal is to make you feel super comfortable.

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We found a great checked concrete vintage tile to use in the kitchenette in the guest quarters.

We found a great checked concrete vintage tile to use in the kitchenette in the guest quarters.

As you know, we live in a defensive tower from the 12th century. It has 4 floors. The main house is located on the 3rd and 4th floors, the guest quarters is located on the 2nd floor under the main house, and the cantina (storage room) is located on the ground floor.

pictured the defensive tower the guest quarters on he 2nd floor

pictured the defensive tower the guest quarters on the 2nd floor

We finished the main house project last May 2017, moved in, and then used the main house kitchen for our workshop cooking lessons and photo lessons last summer and to prep all meals for our attendees and guests. Full disclosure, having lots of people cooking in your own kitchen is challenging; we all had a great time but at times it was a bit out of control. Teri, our private chef, really cranked out some incredible meals for a large crowd during our workshops from our smallish narrow kitchen.

Teri working her magic

Teri working her magic

Commercial Kitchen

entrance from the student lounge to the commercial kitchen dining room

entrance from the student lounge to the commercial kitchen dining room

As you can imagine, it was so exciting once we pulled the trigger on completing the commercial kitchen located under the studio. Of course, Teri was also excited. The studio is a separate building from the tower, a space we teach and work in all year long. Our styling and photography lessons happen in the studio. It’s where we store props as well.

We have most meals outside the studio on our expansive terrace. However now with the commercial kitchen, we will have another gorgeous dining space where we can all gather for breakfast and some dinners and use for photos and extra prep space.

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The kitchen has Cararra marble countertops all around to allow everyone cooking to have their own prep area. Watching the delivery complete with a crane was so exciting. Of course the highlight of the kitchen will be the Lacanche stove. It’s a biggie, and I am excited to welcome my second baby to the family. The floor is terracotta tile which was installed in the last few weeks. The decorative tiles behind the counters are coming soon.

Next to the kitchen will be a full pantry, and full bath complete with shower. The student lounge is next to the kitchen as is the entrance to the kitchen and dining room. Double metal doors with glass panes will lead you to the kitchen garden from the student lounge area where we have built a patio area that will be under a wisteria covered pergola. Here breakfast or drinks can be enjoyed while taking in the kitchen garden and rose garden view. It will have large pots surrounding the vintage tables and chairs, planted with herbs and eatable flowers.

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The most exciting addition this year is the outdoor oven. I can hardly wait to stoke the fire and make homemade pizzas, focaccia, flat breads, and slow cooked Tuscan beans. I am jazzed!!!

I can’t wait until mid-May to share the progress with you all. Our summer workshops are full, and I can’t wait to meet everyone! x

Photo credit: Forrest Spears

 

 

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Italy renovation:: where are we now?

As you know, Frank and I have been renovating La Fortezza our, 12th century fortress in the countryside for over a year. With the studio and main house complete, we have turned our attention to the guest quarters and commercial kitchen and lounge. The guest quarters are almost complete, and when they are finished, we will have 3 bedrooms in the guest quarters, all with their own bathrooms, a small kitchenette, and a lounge area for guests to enjoy snacks, coffee and wine.

The most exciting area is the commercial kitchen where we will teach cooking classes, and hold our Preserving Italy Workshop with Domenica Marchetti in the fall. We will also be hosting Canadian foodstylist, Marisa Curatolo in our kitchen. The decor will be practical and dynamic. The lighting is gorgeous as it has the exact same orientation as the studio upstairs. The giant Lacanche stove will settle into its new home, and we will prepare all of our workshop meals from the kitchen. To say I am super excited would be an understatement. Where are we now?

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The guest quarters are almost complete; windows are in, floors are set, and paint is done. We now will be placing the lighting, and the last steps will be the state of the art resin showers (as we have to wait for temperatures to rise for a proper set).

When I return in May, I will hit the ground running to finish furnishing the guest quarters with all the decor I have been collecting of the past year. Beds, lighting, cool rugs, and custom chairs from Marrakech. I can’t wait to see it all come together. Yes, I swear, it will all come together in May…

You can follow along on the progress report on my instagram. Once these projects are finished, then we will move on to the last project: the out building which will have 3 more bedrooms and bathrooms. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and believe me, it’s been a long time coming.

xx Annette

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